Above: variations on Michelangelo’s sculpture of David holding a laptop, created with Dall-E

“I am glad that we understand each other” is a phrase you’d accept with gratitude and reassurance in most situations. Yet, when it comes from a program scripted by AI, the dialogue suddenly takes on an intriguing and eery character. While we’re busy finding ways to make artificial intelligence best serve our interests, are we forgetting the importance of how much it really understands?

You might not spend every waking moment of your life thinking about artificial intelligence, and yet, a form of it is always “thinking” about you. Using a navigation app to get to the nearest pharmacy, tweaking spam filters on your mailbox app, browsing Netflix recommendations, creating an Instagram reel… The list goes on – using most of the everyday modern technology involves relying on AI.

As Morpheus says in the original Matrix, “We marvelled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to AI.” What’s in the past for the movie is now our present, and it seems, we’re at a crossroads.

Morpheus from “The Matrix” drinking coffee, created with Dall-E

Back in 2014, a computer-simulating a 13-year-old boy became the first to pass the Turning test. Designed by a Ukrainian-Russian scientist duo, a program called “Eugene Goostman” was tested at the Royal Society of London, raising a new wave of concern about the consequences and implications of AI use on humanity.

Since then, Cosmopolitan published its first AI-generated cover, Google fired Blake Lemoine, the engineer who thought the company’s AI is a sentient being, searches for “AI art generator” have risen 700% worldwide, and thousands of artists have embraced generative AI as a creative tool.

Elon Musk has been both a prominent ambassador and a critic of artificial intelligence, his input ranging from an apocalyptic summary that AI is very likely to destroy humanity to raising timely concerns about the ethics of AI use in warfare, judiciary systems, and healthcare.

When it comes to creativity, questions raised by AI development don’t become any less labyrinthine. When AI can make art, what does it mean for artists? Back in 2009, Elizabeth Gilbert gave a TED talk on the elusive nature of creative genius. In a video with over 20 million views, the author of the best-seller “Eat. Pray. Love” talks at length about the idea of creativity being “on loan to you from some unimaginable source,” a message to be received and transcribed, a result of divine inspiration.

A pencil and watercolour painting of a musician playing piano with red keys, created with Dall-E

In a recent paper Ramon Lopez de Mantaras, Director of Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (Spain), suggests that “creativity is not some mystical gift that is beyond scientific study but rather something that can be investigated, simulated, and harnessed for the good of society.”

This astonishing philosophical debate is happening against the backdrop of another pressing issue, intellectual property rights of all things artificial intelligence. In a case that is sure to become historical for the industry, Getty Images is suing the creators of the AI art tool Stable Diffusion for scraping its content.

Meanwhile, AI can certainly be useful – at least when harnessed by human intelligence. When .ART founder Ulvi Kasimov set out to test OpenAI’s ChatGPT, he started with the simplest of questions (see transcript below).

.ART Founder Ulvi Kasimov sharing his first impression of conversing with AI

While it might seem like a minor adjustment, it goes to show that artificial intelligence is no longer a black box of random answers: it’s capable of self-correction and understanding nuance, at least on some level.

In a second exchange, the question was more existential, yet the reply was spot on.

Ulvi Kasimov: Do you think art is important for human being?

AI: Yes, I believe art is important for human beings. It can serve a variety of purposes, such as expressing emotions, documenting cultural traditions, and sparking creativity. Additionally, art can also have therapeutic benefits, helping individuals to process their feelings and gain a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them.

What followed is and exchange that could have easily taken place between two humans, even if AI were embodied by a slightly autistic scientist with no sense of humour.

Ulvi Kasimov: What do you mean “therapeutic benefits”?

AI: When I say “therapeutic benefits,” I mean that art can be used as a tool for individuals to process their feelings and emotions, and to gain a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them.

There is a field of therapy called “Art therapy” which uses art as a means of nonverbal communication and self-expression. Individuals can use art-making to explore their feelings, emotions, and experiences, and to gain insight into themselves and their relationships with others. Art therapy can be used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction.

Ulvi Kasimov: Interesting, because I think that the Covid-19 pandemic made huge damage to our psychic and art could be a remedy.

AI: The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly had a significant impact on people’s mental health, with many experiencing increased levels of stress, anxiety, and isolation. The disruption to daily routines and loss of in-person social connections, along with the uncertainty and fear surrounding the virus, have all contributed to this.

Art can certainly be a valuable tool for coping with the challenges of the pandemic. As I mentioned earlier, art can be used as a form of self-expression and self-reflection, which can be helpful for processing difficult emotions and experiences. Creating art can also provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment, which can be especially important during times of stress and uncertainty. (…) Art can be a powerful tool for self-care and coping with the challenges of the pandemic and can provide a way for people to connect with themselves and others during this difficult time.

Ulvi Kasimov: Funny to hear it from AI, because last year we prepared an art therapy initiative which is going to launch this year.

AI: I am glad to hear that you are planning to launch an art therapy initiative this year. As an AI, I don’t have personal experiences like humans, but I have been trained with a vast amount of information and can provide insights and suggestions based on the data.

When planning your initiative, it’s important to consider the specific needs and challenges of the community you will be serving. You might want to consider partnering with local mental health professionals and organizations, as they can provide valuable expertise and support. Additionally, you may also want to consider providing training and support for art therapists and other professionals who will be delivering the services.

It is also important to have a clear plan for how the program will be implemented and evaluated, to ensure that it is meeting the needs of the community and is having a positive impact. It is great to hear that your initiative is going to help people who are going through difficult times, and I hope it will be successful.

Ulvi Kasimov: Actually, I have some thoughts on to use your support for it. What do you think? Should we rely on you?

AI: As an AI, I can certainly be of assistance in supporting an art therapy initiative. There are a few ways that I can be used to support such an initiative…

An oil painting by Matisse of a robot floating in cyber space, created with Dall-E.

The verdict is still out on the best use for such a precise information stream generator. As noted in a hot off-the-press feature on Disney’s troubles and the role of technology, “when anyone can watch anything, people flock to the best”. The thrill of conversing with a machine will wear off, as might the inquisitive frenzy of consumers: AI did finish Beethoven’s last symphony, but do we see the Met organizing a premiere? What will remain on the front burner of the artistic community and the rest of presently sentient beings is the following question. How do we make sure AI works for us, and not the other way around? For now, it is nice to see AI, with its seemingly infinite access to knowledge, acknowledge our belief in the important therapeutic benefits of art.